9 Dec 2021

Covid-19: Rapid antigen testing to be free for some domestic travellers over summer

3:01 pm on 9 December 2021

Free Covid-19 rapid antigen testing will be available for domestic travellers throughout Aotearoa from mid-December.

A COVID-19 antigen test

Unvaccinated and asymptomatic travellers over 12 years wanting to get the test to meet rules to cross regional borders will be able to take the antigen test for free. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The announcement on antigen testing becoming available was initially made last month, but the Ministry of Health has just released more details on what it will mean for those crossing regional boundaries over summer.

Those who will be able to take the test include unvaccinated people over 12 years old travelling domestically.

Importantly, this will only be available for asymptomatic people because the health advice for symptomatic people is to stay home and get a PCR test.

However, the testing must also be done under supervision at the pharmacy.

It will be free of charge for those doing it to meet domestic travel rules from 15 December 2021 to 31 January 2022.

At this stage, people will not be able to purchase a rapid antigen test from pharmacies to complete the test at home, but that is under consideration by Ministry of Health and it may become available for the general public in the New Year.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the ministry strongly recommended the antigen test be taken as close as possible to the time of travel, preferably within 24 hours before departure.

The turnaround time for a result is just 15 minutes.

While domestic travellers are still able to use PCR testing, this option would free up laboratories to focus on processing PCR tests for symptomatic people and close contacts of confirmed cases, he said.

The Healthpoint website will provide details of testing locations including community pharmacies offering rapid antigen testing.

Who will need proof of negative Covid-19 test

A sign in a pharmacy about coronavirus

The testing must be done under supervision at the pharmacy (File image). Photo: RNZ/ Rob Dixon

When the Auckland boundary lifts at 11:59pm on 14 December, any unvaccinated travellers from the region will require proof of a negative Covid-19 test result within 72 hours of departure.

Port Waikato is included in the boundary with Auckland, and travellers across the boundary must follow the same rules.

Unvaccinated asymptomatic travellers elsewhere in the country that board public transport that have implemented testing requirements, like airlines, will also need to carry proof of a negative test result.

Air New Zealand's requirement for travellers to have a vaccine certificate or proof of a negative test will kick in on 15 December.

There will also be spot checks for travellers out of Auckland Airport.

Unvaccinated workers who are already part of a testing regime for crossing the Auckland boundary can continue with their current regime, the ministry said. Other unvaccinated workers can use the negative test within 72 hours.

People who break the rules on testing face fines of up to $1000, and police will have discretion on enforcing these rules.

"These testing requirements are another layer in our protection with Covid-19 in the community," Bloomfield said.

"As we enter the next phase, there will be challenges ahead. We will continue to see cases, and in places we haven't so far," he said.

"It's crucial that all of us, right around the country, continue to play our part, so we can enjoy the summer we all deserve. Most importantly, if you are unwell, stay home and don't go out or travel until you've had a negative PCR test."

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